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Ministering to Media-Minded Kids

Vince Isner

A friend was telling the story of Jesus walking on the water as a children's sermon. "As I explained to them how Peter got out of the boat and walked toward Jesus," he said, "a little boy shot back, 'That's nothin'-You should've seen how the Hulkster picked up Andre the Giant all by himself and threw him out of the ring! That was awesome!' So much for miracles," he lamented.

Welcome to the media generation. At any given time of day children can be found sitting cross-legged on the floor bathed in blue light from the tube, battling video villians at the corner Wal-Mart, or "rapped" in a world fed to them by miniature music boxes attached to their belts. Is it any wonder that our traditional ways of sharing the faith story seem so pedestrian?

But you don't have to turn your church or Sunday school into a video arcade to get children's attention. Here are some ideas for sharing the gospel with those media-smart whiz kids.

TELL A GOOD STORY

My favorite Bible professor in college was an extraordinary man by the name of Webb Pomeroy. Without the aid of sound effects or overhead projects, Pomeroy literally brought the Bible to life for me and my classmates using a simple technique. He was a master of the ancient art of storytelling. He didn't just lecture on Jeremiah. Instead he told us the story of "Crazy Jerry." On one occasion he referred to the Ark of the Covenant as "God in the Box." Without compromising the integrity of the scriptures, Pomeroy painted vivid pictures no video could ever capture, because he painted them on the canvas of our imaginations.

Let's face it -- a flannel board is a poor match for Masters of the Universe. But before you install a satellite dish on the children's wing, think about the average Saturday morning cartoon. Take away the visual and sound effects and what's usually left is a pretty weak story line. You, on the other hand, have at your disposal some of the greatest drama, adventure, and yes, even humor, in all of literature. Storytelling is a time-honored art, and although you may be tempted to simply sit children around a VCR to "veg out" on a Bible video, resist it. Try telling the story-face to face, and this time with feeling! Here are some tips I gleaned from watching Pomeroy over the years:

1. Start where the children are. You may want to introduce a story by saying "This morning we're going to 'leap' into another time and place. Imagine that you are ( )." Now you're speaking THEIR language.

2. Look for the humor in the Bible. Look for the twists, the moments, the ironies. Your story tie will spring to life, and the children will be spellbound.

3. Understand the meaning. The stories in the Bible are there for a reason. They are first and foremost truth stories. That is, they contain nuggets of truth. Although you don't have to end every story with "and the moral is...", it's important that you as the storyteller are aware of the writer's aim.

For Pomeroy, a biblical story was a dramatic event. Don't underestimate the value of a well told story. You may wish to look into various storytelling workshops that are available, or check out your local bookstore for tips on the art of storytelling. (See sidebar.)

LET THE CHILDREN USE VIDEO TO TELL THE STORY.

I first saw this done at a Vacation Bible School, but this approach also makes a great weekend activity for a confirmation class. Here's how:

1. Pick a favorite story from the Bible. Have the children read it ahead of time.

2. Re-read the story when the children get together. Explain to them they're to turn it into a production. It could be a drama, a soap, even a news story. Could you imagine doing the parable of the good Samaritan as a "Rescue 911" story?

3. Divide your group into production teams. Script writers, wardrobe, sets and a technical crew to run a camcorder. With the Bible and their imaginations, you'll be surprised at what they'll come up with! Have someone on hand who can handle technical problems that arise. Remember the focus should be on the story.

4. Share the video with your congregation. Put together a premier gala event. It helps children feel good about their work!

USE MEDIA TO ILLUSTRATE YOUR LESSONS

Song lyrics, vignettes from movies, and TV characters can all help you communicate with children effectively. What is God like? the fiery image of the Wizard of Oz? Cinderella's fairy godmother? Using images from a child's own experience can be an ideal way to launch into some interesting discussions.


USE THE SENSES

"Today movies and television shows do what churches used to do in past centuries," remarked a Minister/TV actor friend of mine. At first I balked at the thought. Then he explained:

"There was a time when worship was considered a dramatic experience. For congregations who were by and large non-readers, the music, the aromas, the visual symbols, the spoken word, even the pealing of bells all were part of a holistic 'production,' if you will, that communicated the faith story."

Today many churches go through the motions, but the emotion is gone. One of the most meaningful things a minister can do for children is to engage all the senses in worship, not just hearing alone. The aroma of candles, the swell of the organ, the stillness of prayer, the pealing of a lone bell all create meaningful and lasting impressions on children that remain with them all their lives.

Above all, children need to have real experiences (including worship) in which they experience being a part of a genuine, loving community. No gimmick or electronic gadget will ever take the place of a community of faith that is grounded in God's love. And isn't that what the church is really all about? n

Vince Isner is a media project coordinator in Tennessee. He has worked with children for 14 years.



This book is geared more for reading than for storytelling, but is an excellent resource for developing the art of reading aloud to children.

Copyright© 1992 Group Publishing, Inc./Children's Ministry Magazine

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